My 5-year-old daughter and I have different tastes in books we love reading. It’s not hard to see why. She’s in kindergarten and loves Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and Barbie. I have a degree in English and writing and have a sizable collection of classics on my bookshelves by Charlotte Bronte, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens.
Our Reading Tastes
I’ve read a lot of children’s literature. I studied adolescent literature and writing for children in college, and I read Newbery Medal winners for fun. I love classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Cat in the Hat, and Amelia Bedelia. As both of my daughters grow older, I’m excited at the prospect of introducing them to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and when they are teenagers, they’ll read Jane Austen’s novels and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. It is my responsibility to give my daughters a good foundation and instill in them a love for quality books.
Yet, while 5-year-old Megan enjoys the classic children’s books, when we go to the library she gravitates to the short set of shelves where the easy-reader paperback books are arranged like cards in an old-fashioned card catalogue. There’s no highbrow literature here. Most of the books are based on cartoons, and publishers churn them out by the gazillions not because the stories are great but because the characters automatically make them big sellers. Megan flips through the collection and shows me her finds: books about Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, My Little Pony, Barbie, Dora the Explorer, and Spiderman. (Spidey is for daddy. She always likes to get a book for daddy.) She drops all the books into her library bag.
She moves on to the magazine racks and selects a publication plastered with Disney Princesses. I have mixed feelings about the glitzy omnipresent princess industry, but I allow her to put the magazine in her bag. I am not a fan of censorship. At least everything is free at the library, and I can return it all in a week or two. Megan heads back to the cartoony book area and picks up an additional cheap paperback titled Cinderella’s Dream Wedding.
I point to the rows of tall shelves that hold the good stuff. They are rows where one can get lost among titles like Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal and P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? Those shelves hold treasures like Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, Don Freeman’s Corduroy, and Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit.
“You can look for books on the big shelves,” I encourage Megan. I direct her toward the row of Caldecott winners. “Those books won an award because they have nice pictures.”
Megan will sometimes humor me and select a few books from the tall shelves, but I usually have to go first. I pick up a few titles myself to ensure her early reading experiences are broad and balanced. I choose books that look like they would appeal to her, and these are the books we often read at bedtime. During this time of year, with Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas coming in quick succession, I particularly like the row of shelves with all the holiday-themed children’s books. One of my recent great discoveries is An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott. It’s a beautiful picture book about children who make Thanksgiving dinner on their own because their parents must go care for their sick grandmother.
Megan does have some favorite classics. She loves the My First Little House series. It’s a collection of short picture books with gorgeous, detailed illustrations and easy-to-follow plots that introduces young readers to the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She also likes Dr. Seuss, Corduroy, and Amelia Bedelia. We’ve recently delved into the nicely illustrated works of Robert McCloskey, and Megan’s favorite is One Morning in Maine because the heroine looses a tooth. Megan can identify because she lost three teeth this summer. We like McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, too. Megan also loves when I track down classic, non-Disneyified, illustrated fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Whenever we come home from the library, Megan holes up in her bedroom and reads her Care Bear and Barbie books to herself, making up stories from the pictures and occasionally decoding the words with her beginning reading skills. Sometimes I read one at bedtime. That’s okay. What’s most important is that Megan is reading, and she is developing a love for reading. Everything else will build on that foundation. We’ve got plenty of time, and Jane Eyre will be waiting for us someday.
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Tags: children's books